Microsoft has made a major breakthrough in its work on synthetic DNA storage, particularly in improving data throughput. The proof of concept is the subject of a new study by Microsoft Research and a team at the University of Washington’s Molecular Information Systems Laboratory (MISL) that is paving the way for a future where the world’s data is stored on laboratory-made DNA, not tapes and hard drives.

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Old technology still dominates

Microsoft worked on it for years synthetic DNA data storage, a promising technology aimed at meeting growing storage needs. The company paints an elaborate, if not astounding, picture that focuses on today’s and future data needs – the vast amount of information already in place, the amount produced every day, and growth projections for the next two years.

Assuming these predictions are correct, around 8.9 zettabytes of data will be stored worldwide by 2024. according to IDC. That’s around 9 million petabytes of data, which is still more than the average person can imagine. Microsoft translates Put this number in a more relatable context: A single zettabyte would be the equivalent of installing Windows 11 on more than 15 billion computers.

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Several types of data storage are often used, and while they seem downright archaic at this point, tape cartridges remain the most attractive commercial option because of their density (via IBM).

Magnetic tapes have been around for several decades and offer several key advantages to companies that produce huge amounts of data: They help protect information from hackers and they can pack hundreds of terabytes of data into a small form factor. According to IBM, a tape cartridge using its latest technology has a capacity of 580 TB that would require more than three-quarters of a million CDs to be stored.

The use of tape cartridges for data archiving is a practice that will continue for years, but there is a strong demand for a modern alternative that will provide even higher density while eliminating many of the problems of the old technology. This is where synthetic DNA data storage comes into play, according to Microsoft.

Why DNA?

Tape cartridges need to be rewritten every three decades at most, which is a short time for long-term data archiving. Synthetic DNA, on the other hand, is far more durable, according to Microsoft, and can hold data for thousands of years. In addition, using synthetic DNA is likely to dramatically reduce the environmental impact of data centers Microsoft cites evidence This indicates lower water and energy consumption as well as reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

However, synthetic DNA data storage can only be a viable option if certain major hurdles are addressed. The technology is currently limited by low data throughput, particularly the speed at which data can be written. This, Microsoft notes, is a major stumbling block to large-scale synthetic DNA storage, not to mention the cost associated with the technology.

DNA memory graphic

Image: Microsoft Research

The newly announced breakthrough revolves around throughput and presents a conceptual evidence molecular controller. The researchers describe this innovation as “a tiny DNA memory writing mechanism on a chip” that drastically improves the density of the DNA synthesis spots. The result is proof that higher write throughput is possible.

At its core, synthetic DNA storage consists of moving data back and forth from molecules to bits. Microsoft explains that two things are critical to making DNA a viable storage option on a commercial scale:

The first involves translating digital bits (ones and zeros) into strands of synthetic DNA that represent those bits using coding software and a DNA synthesizer. The second is to read the information back into bits and decode it, then use a DNA sequencer and decoding software to reconstruct that information back into digital form.

The company goes into detail about the new development and the further processes of synthetic DNA storage a new blog post. To store data in DNA, the information (in the form of digital bits) must be embedded in the A / C / T / G bases of a DNA sequence. The DNA chain is then synthesized, which typically involves a photochemical process.

Microsoft goes on to explain that electrochemical DNA synthesis bypasses some of the limitations inherent in photochemistry; it includes an array, electrodes and cathodes. The new work describes a synthetic method that successfully increases the speed at which the data is written into synthetic DNA, thereby increasing throughput and, on behalf of it, lowering the cost of synthesizing the DNA.

While synthetic DNA memories are not yet ready to replace magnetic tapes, Microsoft sees this latest development as an important step towards this reality. In its blog post detailing the study, Microsoft stated:

A natural next step is to embed digital logic in the chip to allow individual control of millions of electrode points to write kilobytes per second of data into DNA. From there, we expect the technology to reach arrays with billions of electrodes that can store megabytes per second of data in DNA. This brings the performance and cost of DNA data storage much closer to tape.

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